Want to Make Your Pictures Pop? Use the Color Wheel!

As children, we learn the basics of color and how a color wheel works. As photographers, we can also use this knowledge of a color wheel to make our images more visually interesting. Below, we have a rather rudimentary color wheel. A standard color wheel can be found through a simple Google search; however, I wanted to show how easy it is to find the same basic colors in your own home.

Color Wheel

Here, I asked my 7-year-old to go around the house and find small objects in every color she could find on the color wheel. We made it a scavenger hunt of sorts. Her first instinct was to group the corresponding colors together. This is where we will begin our journey on understanding how to use color wheel photography.

Using the color wheel

There are a few ways you can use the color wheel to make your images pop. We’ll walk through four.

Monochromatic colors

What is monochromatic? It is the use of a single color — any color. Many confuse “black and white” with monochromatic. While it is a monochromatic color palette, any color can be used for a monochromatic scheme. Below, I used white in both images as my predominant color. The smallest addition of color really pops out against the white. The same can be achieved using any color on the color wheel.

Photo of Girl in White with Red LipsPhoto of Girl in White Color Scheme with Black Accents

Analogous colors

You can also use colors that beside one another on the color wheel. For example, you could use shades of purple, blue and green in a single image to make it more appealing. These colors all exist on the same side of the color wheel. Another interesting combination would be purple, red and orange. Your options are nearly endless.

Below are two copies of the one image with different artistic effects added. They both use the purple, red and orange colors, but in different ways. I looked for items that had similar tones. For example, I would not have picked a pastel purple to go with the saturated orange hat. In the watercolor-esque Photoshopped image, I used the colors between purple and red to create more variation in tones.

Photo of Girl in Purple Dress and Orange HatAbstract Photoshopped Watercolor Photo

Complementary colors

The third and most striking way to use a color wheel in your photography is to select colors from opposing sides of the color wheel. This contrast between colors captures the attention of those viewing the image. Below, I have my daughter in a bright blue dress sitting on a yellow blanket. The first thing you notice is the color; second, the pose. This grabs attention while also creating interest.

Photo of Girl in Blue on Yellow Blanket

Triadic color scheme

The last way the color wheel can be used is to choose a “triangle” of colors. If you look at a color wheel, you can see how certain colors make a sort of triangle. This can also create a very striking use of color in an image. Here, I used purple, green and orange — secondary colors. The orange pops out of the image while the green and purple provide a more subtle foundation.

Triadic Color Scheme Photo

Color is surprisingly important in everyday life. There have been countless psychological studies showing how colors can affect your mood and decisions. Color is equally important in your photographs. By using the color wheel, you can not only evoke mood, but you can even change the perception a person has of your subject. Next time you’re out shooting, think about the relationships between the colors in your images and how you can use them.

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